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Enrolling in my high school acting troupe was the best mistake I ever made. Taking acting classes, auditioning for plays, and participating in thespian festivals pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It was all so overwhelming sometimes. And I had never been happier. 

The teachers in the theatre department are part of what made my high school theatre experience so memorable. So much of what they said has stuck with me years after graduating. Here are some highlights of the best advice they had to offer. 

Leave Your Sh*t at the Door

My high school theatre teachers taught acting techniques proposed by Stanislavski, Checkov, and Meisner. One concept that has stuck with me during my studies is the notion that the actor leaves the outside world at the door. 

In other words, don’t let personal issues affect your performance. 

Crossing into the rehearsal room or stage represents a threshold through which outside concerns cannot pass. This way, the actor can immerse themselves fully in the moment as they temporarily let go of their troubles. 

Looking Up Stops Tears from Falling

Perhaps you are thinking high school theatre taught me to look on the bright side of things. Actually, this advice is very literal. 

Stage actors wear a specific type of foundation that doesn’t melt under the intense heat of the stage lights. It is as cakey as it is expensive. And it takes at least an hour to apply the foundation, the contour, the eye shadow, the eyeliner, the lashes all before the stage manager calls places. 

Tensions can run high backstage, but an actor can not risk messing up their face. So what’s an actor to do? Tilt their head back and look at the ceiling.  

This tip has saved me countless times from bursting into tears before presentations and interviews. 

Sing Off- Key but Don’t Just Stand There 

The nuns that made up the ensemble cast were rehearsing for the school’s production of Sound of Music. One of the older girls started singing alone; the rest of us were quiet and too shy to join in. 

The older girl looked at us quizzically. “I hope you guys don’t do that on opening night.”

We shuffled around awkwardly. 

“We’ll sound fine as long as the audience can, you know, hear us. There’s no performance if we don’t sing. Keep singing, even if you’re off- key— you can always recover, but don’t just stand there.”

The show must go on. It can’t grind to a halt because an actor has cold feet. After all, anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly. 

What Would Fosse Do (WWFD)

Bob Fosse was an American choreographer who created an enigmatic dance style in the 20th century. His flamboyant stage choreography, through the use of finger snapping and shoulder rolls, had a profound impact on the Broadway scene. His iconic “jazz hands” are universally recognized, even if their origins are commonly unknown.

My dance teacher taught us that Fosse’s style is most impressive in the way that it employs dance moves that appear quite easy to execute to the audience but are actually more complicated than they appear. 

The same can be said for a lot of things. People only see the final product of a production but cannot know the hours that went into preparing. 

You don’t have to have it easy to make what you do look easy. 

Just Improvise

No production goes smoothly every single time. Mistakes are inevitable during a live production, and forgetting a line is a common occurrence. But what matters is how the actor bounces back. 

So what do you do if you forget your line?

Well, it’s not like the audience knows what you’re supposed to say. Say something, even if just to move things along. Or say something clever and make the audience laugh. 

“Yes, And?”

The first rule of improv: never deny. If your partner in a scene calls you Sam, then Sam is your name. 

The phrase my teachers encouraged us to use for improv was “Yes, and?”

“Excuse me, I bought this blender from your store.”

“Yes, and?”

“I want to return it.”

“Yes, and?”

“It works too well. I need another one.”

And so on. 

Improv is truer to life than more conventional forms of theatre.There are no scripts, warmups, or dress rehearsals to prepare you for the day. 

And like improv, you can’t simply say no once the scene has been set. All you can do is accept what comes and adapt. 

Don’t Let Them See Behind the Curtain

My teacher once shared an anecdote about a nightmare scenario that occurred during a monologue competition. A burp was rising in his chest and threatened to completely derail him. He was forced to take a long pause in the middle of his monologue so he could recover. 

He was sure that his performance had been ruined. 

When the panel of judges gave him feedback, they praised him for the wonderfully powerful silence he had delivered in the middle. They agreed that the pause had been a fabulous artistic choice. 

The audience doesn’t know what the actor is supposed to do next, so don’t sweat the small stuff. 

Make Your Own Roles

I think anyone would be hard pressed to find a single person who hasn’t heard of the Broadway smash hit known as Hamilton: The Musical. But as a sophomore, I had never heard of it. 

My teacher was enthusiastic about it. She told us it was a musical about the least likely subject for a hip hop stage production: America’s very first secretary of treasury, Alexander Hamilton. 

It was hard to believe that such a musical could exist. But just as shocking was what she said next. 

“Lin Manuel Miranda wrote, directed, and casted himself in his own show because he noticed that there simply weren’t many roles written for him. And the roles that were written for him had him stuck in ensemble roles— never the lead.”

I looked into everything about Lin Manuel Miranda that same night, and I realized that he was right. 

If you wait around for someone to tell you who you are and where you go, you’ll never get your chance in the spotlight. Instead, you have to make the role you want. 

Elannah Swarnes Matos is an English Literature Major at UPRM. She graduates in May 2022. In her free time, she can be spotted reading poetry or singing along to showtunes.
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